Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Open Letter from four former drone operators

An important story:  four former US airmen who were drone operators speak out about the ways that drone killings fuel terrorism:

"Cowardly Murder": Ex-drone operators speak out about their jobs

November 19, 2015

Washington (AFP) - America's use of drones to kill suspected jihadists around the world is driving hatred toward the United States and causing further radicalization, four former airmen have said.

"We came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like (the Islamic State group), while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool," the men wrote.In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and CIA Director John Brennan, the four former drone operators said they were involved in the killing of innocent civilians, and had gone on to suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world," they added.
The four are Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland, Stephen Lewis and Michael Haas. Westmoreland was a transmissions expert and the other three controlled powerful sensors on Predator drones.
According to The Guardian, which published interviews with the men on Thursday, the four had 20 years drone operating experience between them.
They told the newspaper that drone operators quickly grow numb to their work and sometimes killed people even if they were unsure whether they were hostile or not.
In one case, Bryant said his drone team killed five tribal men and a camel traveling from Pakistan to Afghanistan, even though they weren't certain who they were or what they were doing.
"We waited for those men to settle down in their beds and then we killed them in their sleep," Bryant told the newspaper. "That was cowardly murder."
When he left the service, Bryant was given an envelope containing a report card with the number of killings he'd been involved in -- that number was 1,626.
Since taking office in 2009, Obama has vastly expanded the drone program, authorizing many more strikes than his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Several countries across the Middle East and Central Asia have seen deadly drone strikes.
According to whistleblower papers published by The Intercept website last month, the Obama administration has underrepresented the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes.
In classified slides, the US military describes fatalities from targeted strikes as "enemy killed in action," even if their identity is unknown or they were not the intended targets, according to The Intercept.
In one five month period, nearly 90 percent of those killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets, The Intercept said.
"We witnessed gross waste, mismanagement, abuses of power, and our country's leaders lying publicly about the effectiveness of the drone program," the men said in the letter.
"We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home."

Friday, November 13, 2015

SOY table at Incarnate Word University, San Antonio

SOY was invited last month to have an all-day table during a Peace Day event at Incarnate Word University in San Antonio, so Hart and an IVAW colleague staffed the table.  We were surprised to hear that there is an ROTC program at that Catholic university, and some of the ROTC students stopped by the table to talk with Hart, who, as an army veteran of the Iraq War, had some things to share about war realities that the students had not seemed aware of.  Hart said it was an epic day, with good conversations with the college students.  Here are some of the students' reflections about causes and prevention of war:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Drop the MIC

An eloquent Veterans Day message from Matt Howard, co-director of Iraq Veterans Against the War:

This day isn't one our community takes pride in. We have always cringed at the "Thank you for your service" platitudes we are offered. Thanking us assumes that our service and support of the occupations is something to be grateful for, and it shuts off any chance for dialogue about the atrocities of wars. We refuse to forget what we took part in and we will not stop in working to end these wars of choice, wars of greed, wars manufactured by people who don't bear their burdens. Our community of veterans is marking this day a bit differently than most. Today, we are launching our #DropTheMIC (military industrial complex) campaign. 
Drop the MIC is focused on highlighting how U.S. militarism affects everyone's lives- those living abroad facing the brunt of U.S. forces and weapons and those living here, facing over militarized police. The same companies that provide weapons to Saudi Arabia and militias in Syria are equipping police departments with armored vehicles. U.S. militarism shows up in the recruiters in our schools, the surveillance aircraft monitoring our protests and the Pentagon sponsored 'Salute our Veterans' spectacles at sports arenas across the country. It is immersed in our lives and we are committed to working to make the invisible seen and to put it to an end.
Today we ask for your support in two ways:
1.) Share the countless ways U.S. militarism shows up in your daily life. Post a picture on social media of the many ways militarism shows up in your community and use the hashtag #DropTheMIC (military industrial complex). By using the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, others will be able to search for like minded posts and see each way militarism shows up in communities across the country. If you don't have a picture feel free to post a relevant article or video with the same hashtag. The goal is to have our friends and family thinking about how widespread U.S. militarism is here at home and abroad.
2.) Contribute to our ongoing Indiegogo campaign to fund our new work areas. We are only $5,000 away from reaching our goal! It makes a big difference for our continued organizing and putting this work into the world. 
On a day that often feels more focused on hiding the wounds of war and ignoring the reasons we have so many veterans, we appreciate the fact that you are by our side in this struggle. 
In Solidarity,
Matt Howard
Iraq Veterans Against the War

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Visiting the Reagan Raiders

Tami, Hart and I had a great visit today at Reagan HS during their single lunch hour. About 20 students completed the t-shirt challenge, and we appreciated students' responses to the questions on our challenge list.  Since Reagan HS is one of the Austin schools that may be able to change its name (Reagan was named for a Confederate Post Master General), we wondered what alternative names students might want to give their school, so we asked that in our poster question.  Several students suggested names that were acronyms for something.  Several also said they'd been studying the early US freedom movements, such as the abolition and suffrage movements, so their suggestions were based on those. Several also suggested their own names as possibilities.

Penny Poll results showed the highest percentage for the Education category (30% of the penny vote), followed by Health Care (25% of the vote), Environment (20%), Military (15%) and Humanitarian Aid (10%).

Our new t-shirt designs were popular, and we hope students will wear them with pride!

 We include Malala Yousafzai on our Peace Wheel of Fortune, and several students told us that there was a new mural of Malala on their campus -- which we saw as we were taking literature to the career room.  What a beautiful mural!  We also hope that students will see the new documentary film about Malala, "He Named Me Malala,"  a beautiful and insightful film.
New Malala mural in courtyard at Reagan HS, made by art students
Dedication of the mural to Malala
student mural artists
Thanks to Raiders students and staff for welcoming us to their campus today!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Scholarships available for immigrant students in Texas

Good info in this article by Joy Diaz of The Texas Standard and reported on KUT radio this week:

It’s college application season, and for many colleges the due date is next month. That means now is the time for writing essays, rounding up letters of recommendation and – lest we forget – figuring out how you’re gonna pay for a college education.
There are loans, of course, if you qualify. There are also scholarships. Typically, if you’re undocumented, you’d be on your own. But a contested executive order on deferred deportations, better known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, could mean money in the bank.
When Pedro Villalobos started college, DACA didn’t exist. “It was really hard to find scholarships just because most of them require that you be a citizen of this country or a legal permanent resident,” he says. “So, at a certain point when you are trying to find funding for college – as an undocumented student you lose hope – because before DACA there weren’t many options for you.”
Then, after Villalobos got his BA in 2012, President Obama issued an executive order that would prevent him from being deported. When he applied for a spot at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and got in, most of his expenses were covered – and mostly through scholarships.
Foundations and benefactors, like former Washington Post CEO Don Graham, have put millions of dollars into a scholarship fund for immigrant students whose parents entered the country illegally.
There have been close to 500 Dream Scholars and they represent most every continent, including Latin America. But that’s a small number of people compared to the 665,000 students who are protected from deportation through DACA.
Cristina Jimenez is one of the founders of United We Dream. It’s a non-profit that helps connect immigrant students with resources. She says few students even know they have financial options.
“Scholarship programs are still limited, but they are available,” Jimenez says. “You have many schools that have opened up scholarship programs. Different states, organizations like MALDEF – for example – have been providing scholarships to undocumented students for a long time.”
As for Villalobos, if immigration laws do not change by graduation day next year, he won’t be able to work as an attorney in this country. Some may wonder if he’s wasting his time and scholarships.
“I see it as an investment in myself, as an investment in Texas and as an investment in the United States,” Villalobos says.
Villalobos’ parents recently became legal residents. They had waited 16 years for immigration authorities to process their paperwork. In that time, Pedro Villalobos aged-out of his parents’ application. He had to start his own – from scratch. He’s hoping it wont take another 16 years to process his paperwork.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Recruiters on AISD campuses must observe new limits

As we noted, last Monday, October 26, the AISD school board passed a new policy that will more tightly restrict access by military recruiters to students in our public schools in Austin.  The new policy is here.  A notice about this was included in a segment on KUT Austin public radio news today.

Our group first brought this proposal forward about a year ago after discovering that, of 3 reported cases, between 2008 and 2011, of local military recruiters charged in sexual assaults of area high school students,  only one of the cases had resulted in a conviction.  In the other two cases, which we researched through court documents, the recruiters had reportedly first met the students on AISD campuses, continued their contact through inappropriate texting, convinced the students to meet with them and then assaulted them off campus.  Reading the court records convinced us that serious crimes against underage students had been committed, but the investigations were dropped after numerous postponements, possibly because of reluctance by the victims to relive the trauma of the assaults.

Our group looked at other district policies around the country regarding recruiters in schools.  We had also noticed ways in our own district that recruiters were getting around the SR-290 opt-out box to obtain student contact information, either directly from the students, by telling them to write down their contact info on cards at their recruiting tables, or through administering the ASVAB test on campuses without parental input.  The new limits we proposed were all included in other cities' district policies and were chosen to directly address both the loopholes in the current recruiter policy and the very serious allegations of recruiter sexual abuse.

In our meetings with district staff, we stressed that sexual assault is a major problem within the military, and we believe that it stems from a military culture of sexism, tolerance of sexual violence and a history of retaliation against whistle-blowers.  The last several years have seen much more media attention to this entrenched problem, and we sincerely hope that the increased awareness, mostly achieved through the courage of survivors who have spoken out, will lead to change.  However, the failure of Congress to pass legislation that would have increased accountability by taking prosecution of crimes outside of the military chain of command makes us think that change will be slow in coming.  In the meantime, the serious problem of sexism and sexual assault in the military affects civilian institutions as well, including our public schools, as long as recruiting is allowed on campuses.